Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Risking Offending

So I wrote a surprising poem this week.  It's a poem about a really personal, physical thing and it definitely risks offending a number of people (my mom is probably first on that list).  And this of course has made me return to that age-old workshop question:  how do we handle this?

A few weeks ago when Peggy Shumaker was in my class a student asked her this.  She answered it well, like many other writers have, which is that each of us individually has to decide how to handle it.  For her, the risk was worth it.  She told the class her memoir had in fact offended a family member, but she wasn't sorry she had written it the way she had.  And of course we are all grateful she did--it's such an honest portrayal of family life.

Generally, I've tried to avoid this in my work.  There are stories I'm not yet ready to tell.  But reading Tender Hooks  gave me this big push this week.  Fennelly's so brutally honest in her poems.  I don't want to write like her, but somehow I stepped through that door a little bit.  And I have to confess, I love the poem.  I may not like it in a month, but I'm in love now (don't you love that initial crush we get on our new poems?).  One thing that surprised me was how much it affected me.  It's been rare that one of my own poems has changed the way I see the world--often I feel like I'm just trying to explain how I already feel.  (This has made me stop and think about what I'm actually doing with poems, since I do believe they should change us as we write.  But that's another topic.)  I feel really invigorated this week by this poem, and by the whole process of writing.  And surprisingly empowered.

I'm not yet feeling too nervous or apologetic about it.  The poem is about breastfeeding and talks a lot about the shape of my body, and the way we view women's bodies.  I do believe honesty is important in these poems--as a mother I've gained incredible strength from reading Fennelly's poems, and from talking honestly to my mom friends.  So I have to believe if I can make this poem work, it'll be worth it to other moms.  Now I just have to think about whether or not I'm ready to risk offending my own mom.

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